Once upon a time, the Olympics used to award medals for art work.
Yes, it was as competitive as swimming and track and field, with more than 150 medals being handed out from 1912 to 1952, when IOC boss man Avery Brundage halted this very popular component of the Games.
There’s been no such corresponding contest at the World Cup, but the many varieties inspired by the start of this year’s tournament in Brazil have been dazzling — from the flying mural that is Brazil’s team plane to a rather interesting official U.S. Soccer team poster.
There’s plenty of street art, of course — from largely celebratory murals to anti-World Cup graffiti — the latter tied to long-standing protests from Brazilians over the high cost of staging the event, along with the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Around the world, talented artists and designers are recreating pieces of the World Cup’s past. James Campbell Taylor, a British-born graphic designer living in Manhattan, has redesigned every official poster from previous World Cups. They’re on the Pennarello design site that Chris Wright, writing for Who Ate All the Pies, says “positively drips with achingly beautiful football nostalgia.”
(And here are the originals for comparisons’ sake.)
Here’s Taylor explaining why he’s done what he’s done:
“I wanted to evoke the place, period, and ‘feel’ of each tournament through graphics, without making any specific reference to the competition itself. While this project involved a lot of research, most of the design references I am able to summon are quite internal, the result of having spent years paying excessively close attention to historical posters, magazine ads, and even record covers from around the world.”
ArtNet News has several posts devoted to the World Cup, including a compendium of 16 soccer-related works of art through history, with most of them on display at British galleries. They include Thomas Webster’s mid-1800s painting, “The Football Game” at the National Football Museum in London.
Also on the protest front, the soccer website A Football Report has a post on the sketchbook of the French artist PEZ, including “The Cost of the Cup” that features the Jules Rimet Trophy. At the top, the globe shape is swaddled in American dollar bills, with buckling Brazilian favelas depicted under them, along the slender base of trophy.
ESPNFC has added some artsy flair to its multimedia team pages, including custom-made posters that include high-resolution options for downloading onto social media accounts.
While I realize this is digital media, these posters are just bit too slick, branded and corporate. They don’t have much of an artistic touch at all, as creative and interesting as they look. I’m perhaps too old-fashioned to appreciate it.
The U.S. Soccer Federation has unveiled a limited edition team poster composed by its art director, Futura, who explains how we went to work with the “One Nation. One Team” motto.
“There’s an abstract nature of my work. There’s a very graphic style. There are also illustrative characters that I’ve done, so I used one of those characters. I was really happy with how that came out. . . It’s minor graphic elements, that when you throw them all together, they look great.”
I’m not particularly enamored with it — this poster looks a bit too abstract for my taste, evoking to my pop culture mind Beldar Conehead dribbling the ball, defended by a KKK Grand Dragon. Or, as a friend suggested, Kandinsky on speed.
I hate to mock art, because I’m not a visual artist and will never understand the sensibility that’s required to do good work. I just react to what my untrained eyes see, and they can be curmudgeonly.
I was surprised to learn the USSF even had an art director. Futura is based in New York, and is known for his graffiti style, so soccer-themed art is perfect for this event. He’s set to create a “live” piece of art on Monday when the Americans kick off World Cup play against Ghana, with the finished work to be auctioned off for charity.
Brazilian artists Os Gemeos — they’re twin brothers — had perhaps the most challenging World Cup are project of all, but I think they’ve done well with it. They spent more than a week and 1,200 cans of paint on the Brazilian team Boeing 737. It will tool around the vast country, carrying the players a nation of 200 million are hoping will extend that nation’s record of World Cup victories.
O Seleção’s bid for the Hexa began Thursday night, with Brazil defeating Croatia 3-1. Now it’s off to Fortaleza to play Mexico on Tuesday, then the capital of Brasília for a game against Cameroon June 23.
It will be regarded as nothing less than a national tragedy if that plane doesn’t make a landing in Rio a few days ahead of the World Cup final July 13.